Part III. H ercule Poirot Sits Back and Thinks
1. Which of Them?
M. Bouc. and Dr. Constantine were talking together when Poirot entered the dining-car. M. Bouc was looking depressed.
“Le voil a,” said the latter when he saw Poirot. Then he added, as his friend sat down, “If you solve this case, mon cher, I shall indeed believe in miracles!”
“It worries you, this case?”
“Naturally it worries me. I cannot make head or tail of it.”
“I agree,” said the doctor. He looked at Poirot with interest. “To be frank,” he said, “I cannot see what you are going to do next.”
“No!” said Poirot thoughtfully.
He took out his cigarette case and lit one of his tiny cigarettes. His eyes were dreamy.
“That, to me, is the interest of this case,” he said. “We are cut off from all the normal routes of procedure. Are these people whose evidence we have taken speaking the truth, or lying? We have no means of finding out-except such means as we can devise ourselves. It is an exercise, this, of the brain.”
“That is all very fine,” said M. Bouc. “But what have you to go upon?”
“I told you just now. We have the evidence of the passengers and the evidence of our own eyes.”
“Pretty evidence-that of the passengers! It told us just nothing at all.”
Poirot shook his head.
“I do not agree, my friend. The evidence of the passengers gave us several points of interest.”
“Indeed,” said M. Bouc sceptically. “I did not observe it.”
“That is because you did not listen.”
“Well, tell me, what did I miss?”
“I will just take one instance-the first evidence we heard, that of the young MacQueen. He uttered, to my mind, one very significant phrase.”
“No, not about the letters. As far as I can remember, his words were: ‘We travelled about. Mr. Ratchett wanted to see the world. He was hampered by knowing no languages. I acted more as a courier than a secretary.’ “
He looked from the doctor’s face to that of M. Bouc.
“What? You still do not see? That is inexcusable-for you had a second chance again just now when he said, ‘You’re likely to be out of luck if you don’t speak anything but good American.’ “
“You mean-?” M. Bouc still looked puzzled.
“Ah, it is that you want it given to you in words of one syllable. Well, here it is! M. Ratchett spoke no French. Yet, when the conductor came in answer to his bell last night, it was a voice speaking inFrench that told him that it was a mistake and that he was not wanted. It was, moreover, a perfectly idiomatic phrase that was used, not one that a man knowing only a few words of French would have selected. ‘Ce n’est rien Je me suis tromp e.’ “
“It is true,” criedConstantine excitedly. “We should have seen that! I remember your laying stress on the words when you repeated them to us. Now I understand your reluctance to rely upon the evidence of the dented watch. Already, at twenty-three minutes to one, Ratchett was dead-“
“And it was his murderer speaking!” finished M. Bouc impressively.
Poirot raised a deprecating hand.
“Let us not go too fast. And do not let us assume more than we actually know. It is safe, I think, to say that at that time-twenty-three minutes to one-some other person was in Ratchett’s compartment, and that that person either was French or could speak the French language fluently.”
“You are very cautious, mon vieux -“
“One should advance only a step at a time. We have no actualevidence that Ratchett was dead at that time.